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Richmond Heights Author Satirizes No Child Left Behind

Edward Scott Ibur is a teacher in the Webster Groves School District.

Edward Scott Ibur is a resident who has worked as a teacher in the Webster Groves School District for more than 20 years. He's also an writer whose first novel, Teacher of the Year, was released this summer by Third Degree Press.

In an email interview, Ibur spoke about life in St. Louis, his new book and No Child Left Behind.

How long have you lived in Richmond Heights?

My wife, Anne (a portrait and plein air painter with a wonderful studio in our back yard), and two teenage daughters have lived in Richmond Heights for eleven years.  Anne painted the cover of the novel, and her work can be seen at annemolaskyibur.com.

Why did you decide to call this area home?

We love the central location of Richmond Heights. Giving our daughters the opportunity to attend the was a primary reason we moved here, but we also wanted to be close to Forest Park. Our oldest daughter transferred to after her first year of high school and our youngest is entering her freshman year at .
   
Why did you become a teacher?

When I was in sixth grade at Wright School in the , I remember one of my teachers asking us to write down what profession we wanted to go into as adults. I don’t remember the order, but I distinctly remember writing down drummer, teacher and writer, and that seems to be pretty much the career agenda I stuck to.

I played drums professionally for years, am currently in my 22nd year of teaching and just published my first book. I became a teacher because I have always enjoyed working with kids, and the best English teachers I had throughout my own schooling always made teaching seem like a hell of a lot of fun, which it is.

Although I always kind of cringe at the cliché of other teachers saying they “wanted to make a difference in a kid’s life,” it is also an accurate reflection of how I feel.

What drew you to the Webster Groves School District, and what has kept you there?

For as long as I can remember, Webster has had a reputation for being charming, diverse and very literate featuring a world-class university, a rock solid public school district and excellent private and parochial schools. That was true when I was growing up and frankly, that reputation is much more deserving of all those accolades now.

WGSD continues to make the state’s District of Distinction list year after year, and I work with an amazing administration, school board and teaching staff— much the opposite of the school I created in my novel.  I am quite sure it has been one of the best teaching “gigs” any teacher could hope for in one’s career.

Tell me about your new novel, Teacher of the Year. What is the premise of the novel, and how long did it take you to write?

The novel is a satire to relay the story of a middle school teacher clinging to his career and dignity during a year spent in professional purgatory. My main character, seventh grade English teacher, Scott Eisenberg, bears the brunt of his principal’s wrath through lousy evaluations and personal humiliation after a handful of his students fail the critical year-end state assessment (No Child Left Behind).

Given the option of termination or probation, the teacher agrees to work with three interventionists (shadows): an acrophobic Nepalese Sherpa, an inflexible retired army general and a streetwise hip-hop DJ who lays down the novel’s diverse musical soundtrack featuring more than 140 songs.

The story is told through Eisenberg’s recounting of the nine months spent with these unlikely saviors both in and out of the classroom. The book has been compared to Thank You for Smoking, Catch 22 and Lucky Jim. 

Teacher of the Year took me just shy of three years to write, another two years working on revisions and about a year to get the book published. 

I understand the book is, in part, a look at possible ramifications of No Child Left Behind. How would you explain No Child to someone who isn't familiar with it?

The NCLB Act is a law that the Bush Administration created back in 2001. There is a lot more to the law than what I am mentioning, but here are some of the basic tenets.

It requires all state education departments to create their own assessments for Communication Arts and Math to be given to public school district children between 3rd grade and high school. In Missouri, which just received a waiver for achieving all the requirements of NCLB, high school students take End of Course Exams (EOCs) which also includes some areas of science and social studies.

Basically, if students did not improve a certain number of percentage points from year to year, a school could receive a failing grade from the state’s department of education, thus putting it on the state’s Watch List, which I think sounds very Cold War KGB, doesn’t it?

Eventually, if a school or school district is perennially failing, not only does it lose state and federal funding, it can be completely cleaned out and taken over by the state. 

What are your feelings about No Child?

I think the basic precept of mandating that kids get the best education possible and that teachers are held accountable for doing their jobs is laudable.

The problem has been that the law itself was completely unreasonable with its expectations and could never reasonably be accomplished.  Every educator I’ve ever spoken to about NCLB knew this to be true.

When I see people in the business world, like the Gates Foundation (which has done some amazing work) trying to mandate a business model for schools; it just doesn’t work. For as big a role that teachers play in the success of our students, parents play an even bigger role.  

If we are really going to see profound change in education, teachers need to play the significant role in creating real and achievable standards. Instead, we have been relegated to the sidelines. Parents (and families) need to be highly involved in the social, emotional and physical well being of their children. 

I fear that one of the offshoots of NCLB has been to demonize teachers because the goals of the law could not ultimately be attained. But, damn if it didn’t make for good satire!

What is your next book project?

I am currently working on another comic novel about a guy who owns his own small advertising agency in Door County, WI, but returns home to St. Louis to be by his dying father’s bedside.

While the father keeps hanging on after being given “minutes” to live, the main character recounts an event that drove him out of college for a year to work for his father’s insurance company during the 1980s.  Like Teacher of the Year, this one features lots of music and absurd situations that will hopefully make readers laugh … or cringe … in a good way!

What other comments would you like to make?

I started a writing program called the Gifted Writer Project (for middle school and high school students) 15 years ago and co-taught with my oldest sister. I have a new program called the Gifted Writers and Artists Project that my wife and I are running with some other very talented guest teachers, writers and artists. As part of this year’s program, I’m devoting a section of the classes to dramatic writing with the St. Louis Actors' Studio at the Gaslight Theater.

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